I have been thinking lately about what it’s like to be infertile / pursuing IVF / post miscarriage.
I realised that’s how it feels. I feel Other.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve had a whole lifetime of getting used to being Other. I was born overseas and I was adopted a few days after birth by my white British parents. Unlike some adoptees (note: I dislike the word but for the purposes of this blog I use it for brevity rather than “people who were adopted”), my parents actually lived in the country of my birth and even spoke some of my “native” language. (I say native as I was preverbal when I lived there so my native language is English.) I realised over the weekend when I was randomly thinking about it that my white British parents actually lived longer in my country of birth than I ever did. Strange.
Growing up with non-white features it was ingrained in me from the start that I was Other. (Okay, possibly not the start, but pretty much smacked me in the face when I moved to England.) The predominant beauty standards are white and you probably have no idea how internalised that beauty standard is. For example, it’s taken me until recent years, my late 30s, to understand that people of my race can actually be attractive. And for me – I used to hate how I looked so much, that I would stare for hours in the mirror at myself and wish that my eyes and nose and hair and skin were different, and I could just be “normal” (blonde, blue eyed). Even though there are probably more people who look like me in the world than not. Fast forward to adolescence and females of my race are fetishised as exotic and ascribed a level of ability with the opposite sex that has simultaneously served me well, as well as slightly repulsed me.
It’s kind of tricky growing up different. Of course I had a sibling, also adopted from the same country, who was supposed to make me feel less alone. Our parents wanted us to have that kind of buddy and racial mirroring, I guess. (They came from the era where “colourblindness” was the prevailing attitude, pretending you can’t see race, which is really quite confusing to transracially adopted kids. They didn’t know any better – I don’t blame them, but it really is confusing when people tell you they can’t see a problem when there is clearly a problem.)
It’s been a love-hate relationship between my adopted sibling and me all our lives. At times it’s felt like a reminder of my own failings, a mirror to my Otherness. At times it’s felt like I had an ally and at times it’s felt like we were both as clueless as each other. We don’t know how to be [our race], other than in looks. We had very few racial mirrors growing up (as they now talk of as important on transracial adoption forums). I hate to admit it, but I was kind of scared of people of my own race… they seemed so foreign… and if I really admit it, I probably still do. I’m insanely jealous of [ethnic minority] colleagues who have loads of [their race] friends. Like, I like white people; I really do – I live with one, and my family’s mainly white – but it would be nice once in a while to not be the token ethnic.
Infertility and transracial adoption is a strange and ironic kind of intersectionality where I kind of want to start singing Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic, aside from the fact that everyone knows it’s not really about irony. There’s a special sort of bad luck associated with that primal desire to have some sort of genetic connection to another being, which adopted and non-adopted alike seem to want more often than not, and the inability to have that even when your first genetic links were severed. It’s like lightning striking twice – no, you can’t have a genetic relation! Can you really lose both your first family and your potential family? That seems kind of double bad luck! You lose the ability to see your parents in yourself, and you lose the ability to see yourself in your kids. That is something basic, something primal, and something that pretty much everyone else takes for granted. It seems doubly unfair not to have both, no matter how “lucky” you are as an adoptee.
I can only speak for myself as an adoptee. Others have different stories… We aren’t some amorphous mass of adoptedness. A lot of the time when I read stuff on adoption forums and blogs, I feel like I can’t relate, and maybe that’s another layer of intersectionality – the treatment of ethnic minorities (UK term) / people of color (US term) in the UK (where I live) and the US (where most bloggers/forum posters seem to live). I think my experience growing up overseas in a primarily American expatriate environment followed by “assimilation” in the British environment in the UK gives me a specific perspective that probably differs from a lot of what I read online. I don’t at all dismiss those voices, and equally I think it’s good if we recognise we aren’t all the same – some dichotomy of angry or grateful (the adoptee tropes) – we are all different, all complex, all different shades.
My feelings about adoption have changed and developed, which is apparently common with adoptees. As a younger child and adult I really downplayed the idea that genetic links mattered and that there was any need to have a child related to me by blood… I kind of thought it didn’t matter, because it didn’t matter that my family wasn’t genetically related to me. (I always saw myself having children, though.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more “woke” (as they call it in adoption rights parlance) to the idea that adoption isn’t just as tickety-boo as it might seem (I’m not opposed to it but I think there are reasons I would hesitate about doing it, particularly in the UK where there is far less of a domestic adoption “market” as there is in the US/overseas, meaning that we don’t really have babies adopted to order and more likely involving traumatised children who have been involuntarily removed from their parents). I’ve also become more in tune with the idea that I’ve lost my genetic links and my cultural heritage and that that’s a loss rather than just a fact, and I would like if possible if my child could have that familiarity and genetic link to its parents.
I don’t know if I’m really explaining it very well… It’s just how I feel. Both my partner and I were adopted as babies; we both had largely positive experiences (though mine was negatively impacted by being a different race to the predominant one) and we both feel that our adoptive families are our families, and we feel secure and happy in our families. And yet – we both would like to have a child who is genetically ours. We haven’t fully explored what our choice would be if/when we decide to give up on the fertility treatments. I can’t say for sure what I would want, but I don’t think we would automatically move towards adoption (plus I think it’s insulting to think that just because we were adopted, we should “just adopt” – it’s really not that simple). Life without kids isn’t worthless, no matter what the media might portray. We enjoy our life right now with Dog and without children, so maybe we would just not have kids.
And here we are, putting ourselves (mainly me) through this gruelling and intrusive process, just to grasp that teeny tiny flicker of hope that it might work and we might become parents. I started down regulation just over a week ago and honestly, I feel pretty crappy.
First of all, it makes me feel like I have perma-PMS. I now have a big zit on my chin, which always makes me feel really self conscious (I had very bad acne as a teen which only healed when I went on the pill – bad skin just added to my intense hatred of my looks). I’ve also piled back on the weight which I don’t know whether to attribute to a bad month of eating (staycation, Easter, general PMS-like feelings from down regulation) or to the side effects of the Buserelin. Either way I’m back up to a high weight and I’d been doing really well losing 4-5kg, so it makes me feel awful and fat. Plus whatever’s in Buserelin (it dampens down your body’s natural cycle which is then kick started by stimulation meds in a couple of weeks) makes my boobs grow enormous.
The upside of this is that T really likes the bigger boobs; the downside is I hate them. They feel sore and I feel like they make me look fat. He says the drugs make me more moody too, which is probably not a surprise as they basically mimic PMS symptoms. Ugh. So I’m spotty, with greasy hair, humungaboobs and fat as well as moody. It’s basically the dream combo for making a baby! (Nevertheless we did have a bit of how’s your father over the weekend, because you may as well take advantage of having big boobs when the situation arises.) I’ve found myself feeling more emotional than normal, which is maybe a side effect of down regulation. (Or: I’m just a moody cow.) I feel more than ever that there are situations in which people (let’s call them breeders) act in a way that is massively triggering.
One such occasion happened last week when I was on the tube. The tube was delayed for ages due to some kind of mechanical problems which means it was way more crowded than usual. I was standing up for part of the way and was feeling kind of gross (as for some reason I’ve also been feeling a bit nauseous, probably due to the Buserelin or possibly that I keep stuffing myself). A guy holding a toddler obnoxiously asked people to move down inside the carriage (people do this and it’s very annoying because the carriage was already really crowded and people weren’t standing there just for fun). Someone in front of me vacated their seat and I went to take it, and then this guy holding the toddler kind of muscled in and said in a really loud voice “Could I have that seat please” – indicating the child as a reason. I duly gave up my seat.
This is probably a London etiquette thing but the basic hierarchy for seats is: disabled people, pregnant women, old people – then everyone else. There’s no place in the hierarchy for children, and in many cases, people will ask their children to stand up or sit on their laps if lots of people are standing. The other point is that children travel free. So by taking up a seat, a child is taking a seat from people who have paid, whilst they haven’t paid. Now, I always give up my seat to people who fall in the above categories. Believe it or not, I’m especially attuned to pregnant women because to see one is basically to be punched in the face with your infertility. They have these badges they wear saying Baby On Board which is depending on how you see it, either a smug way of saying they’re pregnant but more likely a British thing of asking for a seat without actually having to ask. If you see someone with a badge on, you need to offer them a seat. Everyone knows that. (Strangely it always seems to be me giving a seat, rather than a man.)
What bugged me and triggered me about this man was his sense of entitlement. Sure, it’s not fun standing on a crowded tube train with a toddler. But he was travelling in rush hour, which is when most people are getting to work (it seems unlikely he was, given his casual wear and the kid), and there were delays, meaning that most of the carriage was full of standing people. Like I said, it’s absolutely not the norm to give a seat because someone has a child (it was an able bodied, verbal child) and then it soon became apparent that this guy was there with his wife/partner, as he started speaking in a loud “Daddy” voice to the toddler about “Mummy” for the entire journey. I’m all for fathers being happy to be fathers but parents who shove parenthood into everyone else’s faces really p*** me off.
In fact the man sitting next to him immediately got up and offered me his seat, because he also seemed to grasp how ridiculous it was to be told to give up your seat for an able bodied man and child. (Note I didn’t say anything about feeling nauseous or ill or anything, because as a non-pregnant non-mother we are pretty much implied to be invisible and pointless… I don’t get a vote.) I appreciatively took the seat and then wham… a woman gets on with a Baby on Board badge, and nobody offers her a seat, so I jump up out of my seat and she waddles through the crowd and takes it. (I’m not mad at her, just mad at all the people closer to her who should have given up their seat – including the able bodied man and child… The guy just carried on yabbering to the child really loudly, as if he thought he didn’t have to give up his seat for a pregnant lady.)
Point was of this whole story is how a seemingly innocuous event can make you feel terrible. Maybe it’s the down regulation and the drugs that are making me feel bad. Maybe it’s my history of infertility and loss that makes me feel like I’m constantly reminded of how I’m a second class citizen because I don’t – can’t – have a child. Maybe it’s a lifetime of feeling Other. Or maybe it’s all three.
I got a seat eventually, when the obnoxious Daddy got off (not after giving the entire carriage a running commentary in baby voice about every single stupid aspect of the journey – basically being inconsiderate to everyone else, either because he thought his job as Daddy was so important or he just didn’t care). It’s such a stupid small thing, but the effects of that journey are still ongoing. I am still smarting from it a week later, still feeling inadequate and still feeling resentful. I even feel resentful that I’m resentful. Like, I shouldn’t even care what some dimwit does on the tube, but I do. It’s pretty much impossible to escape one’s childlessness and the constant reminders that we are lesser human beings because we haven’t managed to perform this basic human function.
And yet. There are good things happening too. (I promise you I’m not sitting around in a fug of childlessness… I’ve been childless my whole life so I’ve had time to get accustomed to the idea!) Hopefully our house is moving ahead, which is a good thing. I mean, it’s exciting to think we might have our own home. We even went to the Ideal Home Show at the weekend just to look around, as we got free tickets – it’s fun to play dream house although our new place is tiny and doesn’t have space for most stuff! T made me think of fun things like what would my ideal cooker be. (He’s great at cheering me up. It would be a big range cooker! Impractical for a small flat!) On Sunday we introduced Dog to our friends’ dog – they’d never met – and went for a long walk. They aren’t friends as such given the other dog is 4 times Dog’s size, but the other dog “gave” our Dog a cow’s ear (URGH) to chew on, which Dog’s almost beside himself with happiness about. (I, on the other hand, am disgusted.)
Work is much easier now I know I’m leaving! It’s quite gratifying when people are being annoying, to think that I don’t have to deal with them for much longer. My work friend left last week which was sad, as it means I don’t have her to chat to any more, but I did inherit her desk which is a total prime desk by the window in the corner (not overlooked – win!) which is fun to think of as it means I have it for the next couple of months whilst working my notice! Which is quite nice!
So actually I’m sort of happy about things. I’m just working through my feelings on here, and aside from the Buserelin Blues (which should be a song – boo-boo-be-doo) I am generally okay. I need to work on not getting worked up!
Next steps for IVF:
I have my first scan on 12 April. This means in a week’s time I could be starting stims and I also have some of the reproductive immunology stuff from Dr S to take. Maybe a week or two after that, egg collection. Quite exciting… although daunting to think of how many other steps there are after that. T and I were talking about it and thinking ahead to next steps if this doesn’t work. Like if we move, we might have to go to a different clinic for the next cycle. We might change eligibility so might not get another NHS cycle, which would mean going privately. It sounds negative but I find it easier to try and plan for contingencies and think that we have a plan if it doesn’t work out.
I am hopeful. It’s just that I’m slightly more realistic… slightly more bruised than I was in Cycle 1.